Quick Review: The Raid: Redemption (dir. by Gareth Evans)


I have to admit, Gareth Evans’ “The Raid: Redemption” wasn’t on my collective radar. It was by way of two friends on Twitter that I was even aware of it, but damn was it worth it. I can easily recommend The Raid as the movie to catch this weekend if you can find it playing near you (and if you happen to like action films). It’s been a while since I’ve run to the theatre twice in one week for the same film. It’s not perfect, and won’t win any kind of dramatic awards, but it’ll probably have you coming back for a second dose of the action.

The film has three things going for it:

1.) The action is intense, when it happens. The breaks between action moments are small.

2.) The film is short. At about 100 minutes, you almost won’t even realize when the film’s done.

3.) The music really moves it.

Evans and The Raid’s main star, Iko Uwais worked together back in 2009’s Merantau, which I’m looking to see now. The premise of The Raid: Redemption is a simple one. Rama (Uwais), along with 20 other SWAT team (or SWAT Team like) members perform a raid on a building owned by a criminal lord. Once the team gets in, they find the tables turned on them, with everyone in the building becoming their enemy.  This forces the team to try to stay alive and find a way to either escape, or get the Boss. That’s all it is, and honestly, that’s all The Raid would need to be as an action film. It’s as simple a story as Fist of Fury, Hard Boiled, and quite possibly The Expendables. There’s a side element in the film that I won’t go into detail on, which adds to things a little, but all the audience needs to know is that in The Raid, you’re getting pure action. If you’re walking into this expecting something more thought invoking (and that’s not a detriment to the film), you may want to look elsewhere.

Another high point of the film is its soundtrack, performed by  Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park) and Joe Trapanese has a number of kinetic tracks in it that help to fuel the battles. It comes together very well, though part of me wishes that the main theme had a larger instrumental piece to it.

The pacing for The Raid is pretty good. Again, the time between fights are minimal, and most of it is used to showcase some of the situations the team and the members that live in the complex are in. While a few of these can be tense, they don’t really relax to the point where you’d hope to see more action.

If The Raid suffers from any drawbacks, it’s that that the fights themselves can end up being a little on the repetitive side. Mind you, this could be just a side effect of having seen the film twice already but you’ll find that by the time you get to the second to last fight, some of the moves seem to be repeated. Still, you won’t see anything better than this if you’re looking for a straight laced action film. An easily recommended pick.

**Spoilers** Review of The Cabin In The Woods


Originally I wasn’t going watch this because of pathological hatred of Zucking Fombies. Fortunately, Arleigh told me that it was more than those wretched Zucking Fombies. The Cabin In The Woods is sheer brilliance because Whedon and Goddard turned the tired and cliched horror formula on its ear. Their collaboration freed us from the oppression of torture porn and loathsome gore for the sake of gory credo.

**Spoilers begin here**

In this film world, every horror film nightmare creature from the shambling zombies to snarling werewolf to a Cenobite analogue to Lovecraftian elder gods exist.  As a fan of Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer series, I couldn’t help but see similarities between the TCITW’s world and the world of the Slayer.  So the description, “It’s like an episode of Buffy with gore, cussing, and naughty bits, but no Buffy Summers” is pretty accurate. The presence of Amy Acker (Winifred “Fred” Burkle) from Angel fame cemented this opinion. The film cast could easily be stand-ins for the Scoobies with Marty playing Xander Harris, David as Riley, Dana as Willow, etc. The mysterious shadow organization could easily be division of Wolfram & Hart and the slumbering elder gods could replace the Senior Partners as well as Buffy’s Big Bad. I found it interesting and clever that the token victims served as the required sacrifice to appease slumbering boogie men because it explained why the fool, the virgin, the scholar, the jock, and the party girl are always the victims of horror movies. I also loved that the grumpy old man that cryptically warns the kids also served a purpose.

The film is also reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe in the sense that the evil and violence had a higher purpose.  The nightmare creatures could easily be Ogrdu Hem carrying out the will of their parents, the Ogdru Jahad. The secret organization had the dual role of the BPRD and Rasputin.  They were like the BPRD in the sense they prevented the end of the world and captured/contained/employed the things that go bump in the night. They were like Rasputin because they reverenced the elder beings and paid them annual tribute.

Found the following things interesting:

  1. The plot to keep the elder gods happy was a global one (other nations like Japan were involved).
  2. The wide range of monsters that the organization captured (made me wonder how they were able to capture the most lethal ones like the Cenobite wannabe, werewolf, soul stealing ghost, etc).
  3. The causal office vibe the organization had despite their morbid mission.
  4. The elder gods represented the audience/horror audience (an interesting point brought to my attention by a friend)

Review: Game of Thrones S2E04 “Garden of Bones”


“A naked man has few secrets. A flayed man has none.” — Lord Roose Bolton of Dreadfort

I will say that tonight’s latest episode of HBO’s medieval fantasy series, Game of Thrones, probably qualifies as a set-up episode. The episode was quite good, but it was also one that moved around the world of the series to help establish some upcoming storylines for characters in the show. What each of these set-ups had in common was how much they dealt with death both the past, present and future. Tonight’s episode lacked any sort of balance to it’s downbeat and doom-laden tone.

“Garden of Bones” was the title of tonight’s episode and it comes from the description the people of Qarth called the area outside their city-state’s walls. It’s an area full of death and the bones left behind by the enemies and unfortunate individuals who were barred from entering the city’s gates. The show has been very good with introducing those fans who have never read the book to the culture of the many peoples in Game of Thrones. While these many disparate cultures have differences that make them unique they also seem to have a common denominator and that’s with how they view the concept of death. This is a world where death has become the norm and almost a currency for those in power. It’s no wonder that death would be described in such interesting and flowery ways.

We see death on the battlefield as Robb Stark’s army opens up the episode with another major victory over forces of Tywin Lannister and his bannermen. While the battle itself wasn’t shown the aftermath is something we do see in very grim and detail. Bodies of the dead from both sides litter the battlefield and we get a mention about how the butcher’s bill for the battle itself was 5 Lannister men dead for every Stark men. It’s a grim reminder that the world Martin has created with his novels is one that doesn’t glorify or sugarcoat the nature of warfare, especially the medieval kind, and how it grinds away men both soldier and civilian alike. We get a sense of how even the very one king out of the five vying for control in this season has no clue as to the consequences of his actions. A nurse who is tending to the wounded and crippled of the battle’s aftermath pretty much calls bullshit on Robb Stark’s assertion that he’s the good guy in this war. A good guy the nurse calls out for not having a proper exit plan if and when Robb defeats Joffrey. Even Robb’s compassion towards his defeated enemies seem to ring hollow considering that it’s his reaction to his father’s death which has brought about all the death we see in this episode’s beginning.

It’s that exit plan that Tyrion seems to be working on whether his family wins the war or not. Once again it’s the one person everyone (well except Bronn) seems to not take seriously due to his appearance and undeserved reputation who sees clearly that if the war continues the only one who would have won would be the dead and that’s because they won’t have to deal with the post-war mess Joffrey and the other claimants to the Iron Throne (or carving out their own kingdoms from the ashes) have made with the execution of Ned Stark in season 1.

The theme of death continues to permeate even when it comes to the younger roles in the show. Across the Narrow Sea we see Daenerys and her khalasar on the brink of starvation and death until news comes from one of her outriders that the city-state of Qarth wants to meet with her. It’s a meeting that doesn’t go well for the young Targaryen queen as those in power in the city (a city of merchants) are not overly impressed by the so-called Mother of Dragons. It’s a misstep in her attempts to negotiate diplomatically that threatens to add her and her khalasar to the ever-growing Garden of Bones which encircles the walls of Qarth.

It’s from the youngest of the Stark daughters that we see the death and brutality of this war come into vivid view as Arya arrives with the rest of the prisoners into the cursed castle of Harrenhal. We see torture in full display as a prisoner is brought into questioning as Harrenhal’s current lord wants information on a band of warriors who call themselves “The Brotherhood” who continue to harry the Lannisters in the region. Arya’s journey from being the rambunctious and wild young daughter of Ned Stark in season 1 to the damaged and old-before-her-time survivor continues as she witnesses the torture of the prisoners and the utter disregard for human life some of the men of Harrenhal have towards the prisoners and villagers living nearby. It’s ironic that the very person who actually shows a semblance of compassion (though probably less compassion and more of a pragmatist who sees waste in killing of prisoners) would be the head of the house which killed her father and took her away from family and home. Yet, it’s her near-ritualistic repeating of the names of everyone who has wronged her from Joffrey and the Lannisters to Ser Amory Loch who killed Yoren in the previous episode.

Tonight’s episode doesn’t treat it’s young characters with kid gloves and with Arya we see how much she’s becoming accustomed to all the death around her and even uses it to keep herself focused on her personal quest of vengeance. For one of the youngest characters in the show she’s turning out to be the one who is learning to understand the power the concept of death has over everyone. It’ll be interesting to see if the show does the brave thing and really follows the novel in terms of Arya’s journey into what I can only call the dark side.

“Garden of Bones” wasn’t as streamlined as the previous two episodes this season, but it does set-up some major plot threads for the rest of the season. While it they all seem to be lines of story that look to not interconnect they all seem to agree on the fact that more death will be forthcoming as the season heads toward what I can only see as a bloody, fiery conclusion. Oh, plus it did have quite a major turning point in the show and another step towards making magic and the supernatural part of the show’s narrative fabric as Melisandre show’s Ser Davos Seaworth the true extent of her powers.

Notes

  • We get two new locations and clockwork cities in the show’s intro sequence: Harrenhal and Qarth.
  • Love the detail of the clockwork Harrenhal being made to look like the dead and cursed castle and land that it is with no clockwork motions given to it in the intro.
  • Another battle that is done off-screen. The Battle of Blackwater Pass better be epic.
  • Great to see Greywind actually being used as part of Robb Stark’s army.
  • We get another new character introduced that fans of the books should know very well: Lord Roose Bolton of Dreadfort
  • Joffrey takes another step into Emperor Nero-level of royal madness.
  • If anyone ever wonder just how crazy the Mad King Targaryen was then Joffrey may be giving glimpses of that very madness when it was still in it’s early stages.
  • Fans of the show may still not be enamored with Sansa Stark, but Tyrion is beginning to understand just how much a survivor she’s becoming in the dangerous world Joffrey has turned Westeros into.
  • Tyrion and Bronn continue to be one of the highlight’s of this new season with Tyrion once again having some of the best dialogue. You’d think the show’s writers were making sure Dinklage wins another Emmy for his work on this show.
  • Natalie Dormer in the role of Margaery Tyrell continues to own the role as she more than holds her own during a verbal joust with Littlefinger in the Renly war camp.
  • We hear the first mention of something called “The Brotherhood”. It will be interesting if the writers decide to make them a major part of the tv series considering it would add another half dozen or so characters to an already large cast for the season.
  • We see how much Daenerys has to go to be a political queen as she deals with the Thirteen of Qarth.
  • Some more great work from young Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in tonight’s episode. She continues to be the star of the cast of young actors on this show.
  • Stannis may be a rigid man in terms of whats right and wrong, but not when it comes to battle or war it seems.
  • Davos’ reaction to what Melisandre has planned all along in the secret mission Stannis has sent him on was classic. It had all sort of WTF written all over his face.
  • One of the most important scenes in Martin’s story was done quite well and disturbingly so.
  • Which ends the episode that was shorter by a few minutes than previous ones.

RANT BEGINS

Some major changes in tonight’s episode in regards to the books and in this season as a whole. I’ve seen many on Twitter complain about this. All I can say to these people: they had to be made and Martin has been involved in making sure they fit into the overall story he’s been telling. Either stop watching the show looking for the next book-to-tv change and bitch and moan about it when it happens or just treat the show as it’s own thing separate from the books they love so much. As a fan of the book series from the very beginning I understand the changes for tv and don’t see it as making the novels worse in the end.

What’s the point of watching something that’s suppose to entertain and bring about discussion when one already going into with a negative bias about the show. Get off the show’s jock and watch something else if you can’t get passed the changes. No point in spoiling things for those who have never read the book and must read and listen to the complaints.

RANT ENDS

Anime You Should Be Watching: High School DxD


So, I’ve noticed that with the few anime recommendations I’ve posted about, I’ve actually kept it quite classy, or at the very least the shows have merit.  Aria, classy.  Higurashi, well written.  Ika Musume, good clean fun.  High School DxD is the exact opposite of all those.  Hey, I’m a guy with an avatar of a girl flashing her panties.  It would be very remiss of me if I didn’t write about a fanservice anime once in awhile!

So, the general premise of High School DxD is that the protagonist, Issei, enters high school with one goal in mind.  It’s not to be the top student, or a star athlete, oh no, he has far more loftier goals.  His desire is to be the Harem King.  And his goal is off to a good start when a beautiful girl asks him to be her boyfriend right away.  Then the goal gets sidetracked a bit, because on their first date she reveals that she’s a fallen angel and promptly kills him.  Sounds like the shortest anime ever, I know, but that’s where the story really starts.  See, he is then revived by the president of the Occult Club, a buxom redhead named Rias Gremory, who also turns out to be the daughter of a prestigious demon clan.  How prestigious?  Well, her brother is Lucifer.  Yup.  Anyways, Issei is apparently important because he contains some lost relic or something or another in him.  His arm can turn into some kind of device.  Whatever, that’s not terribly important.  What is important is that Issei was revived, but not as a human, rather he is now a demon too.  And while he may have lost his humanity, he’s gained something much more important.  His harem!  You see, in addition to Rias, there are also the lovely Akeno Himejima, the delicious Koneko Tojo, and the later addition of the kind, but a little dim Asia Argento.  Also, there’s another guy, but he’s about as important here as Itsuki Koizumi is in the Haruhi Suzumiya series.  Each character represents a piece on a chess board, which also indicates their abilities.  Rias is obviously the King, Akeno with her overwhelming magic power is the Queen, Asia with her healing powers is the Bishop, Koneko with her super strength is the Rook, Yuto (unimportant dude) is the Knight, and Issei is the Pawn.

So, what works in this series?  Well, there’s the panty shots and the boobs.  What more is needed?  The budget for this, while not of the Studio Ghibli variety, was certainly consistent at least, since the character models don’t suffer from episode to episode in quality like a lot of series tend to.  It seems a lot of care was taken to make the characters look appealing, and it shows.  Yes, there is a lot of cheesecake here, but it’s good cheesecake.  Sometimes that’s all you need to have a fun series, and in this case it works.  Also, I found it very refreshing that the protagonist in a harem anime comes straight out and declares that he wants a harem.  I love my harem anime as much as the next guy, but I do tend to get tired of bland, milquetoast males who flounder about and act all scared to death when a member of the opposite sex even talks to him, let alone accidentally flash her breasts.  Here, Issei makes no bones about the fact that he’s a pervert and proud of it.  And most of the girls are fine with it too!  Surprisingly the only one that really isn’t is the kuudere, Koneko.  Usually that kind of character is rather indifferent, but she’s very much against Issei’s perverted ways.

So what didn’t work?  Well, the story, or rather the fact that it’s like the show had ADD and couldn’t decide what it wanted to do.  First off they’re fighting fallen angels.  But they kind of stop that midway without really a whole lot of closure and suddenly switch to going after the Church.  Then that kind of gets pushed aside for another crack at the angels.  Then without really being done with either, they’re fighting another demon clan.  This was based off a light novel series that’s still ongoing, so I’m more forgiving towards that, but it still makes it tough to get any continuity going, nor is the ending very satisfying.  I don’t pay attention to viewing numbers or DVD/BD sales in Japan, so I’m not sure how well received this show was, but it’s definitely set up for a second season.  The light novel series seems to be popular enough, since there are 12 volumes out since it started in 2008, and it’s still ongoing.  So, perhaps enough fans will have tuned in to get it the second season I feel it deserves.  If this is all we get, well it’s good pervy fun, but I feel it could be a bit more than just that if allowed to continue on.

Finally, this show has probably the best ending sequence I’ve seen in an anime in a very long time.  The song is typical upbeat Jpop, but the accompanying video is something that one must watch to fully appreciate.

With that in mind, I’m sure there’s little doubt as to why I felt compelled to post this up and give a recommendation for a show to watch when you just want to see some panties flashed and some boobs jiggle.  Because hey, who hasn’t had a day like that?